I must confess dear readers that I went into this game with rather constrained steps. First all the title and concept. I have to admit that I cringed at the title. It sounded like an unimaginative person trying to be imaginative (A person who cleans up a crime a scene instead of creating one is not something that happens!!). Thinking back and writing this down I wonder if my visceral reaction was in any way justified? Not really, I was judgemental and over reacted to what I perceived as a lame pun. The lesson I learned was not to judge a book entirely by its cover. A book with a bad cover can be great. Which this insight gained I just wanted to say that the upcoming Adam Sandler movie already sounds like shi-
It is the 1970s; America is being rad in ways that will haunt the memories of the nostalgic middle-aged for a long time. You are a professional cleaner, someone who cleans up various crime scenes at the behest of clients. However the profession of cleaning up after mob and gang fights turns deadly as the Cleaner finds outs when he and his family are targeted by a sinister serial killer. I adore the setting and the subtle nods to historical events.
Both the radio and the newspaper deliver small titbits of information (such as the creation of Jonestown, the oil embargo and more. They bring a nice sense of atmosphere to the game; we see time continually flow, situations mark the decade remembered in a casual down to earth manner. As what many at the time would remember those events, something that temporarily disrupts the daily grind. The grind in this case being picking up ground up murder victims.
The problem with characters
There are two short comings in terms of the writing that being the story and the characters themselves. I have decided to the latter now for reasons. No one in Serial Cleaner is either compelling or relatable. The Cleaner himself (whom I cannot even remember his name) is a pretty bland character, he is a tough, no nonsense business man who takes jobs to pay off his gambling debts. He loves his elderly mother and shields her from the evil people his job attracts. His dangerous job gets him in over his head and he becomes the unlikely hero. Does this sound familiar?
Possibly, as this trope (while not bad or good) is pretty common (Heroesfor example ), the problem is that the Cleaner is little more then the trope. There is nothing that really stands out about him nor is any part of the trope twisted or deconstructed. As a result he is not really an interesting character to me. That is not to say that he might be interesting or relatable to you, dear reader.
Sadly for me he just flew through one ear and out the other. Same goes for the rest of the cast really. The mother is just a simple well meaning old woman, completely blind to the harsh realities of her adult son’s life. The serial killer himself is generic mad killer, whose real identity is a character we have never met or interacted with previously. The reveal as a result is weak and as impactful as a dry cloth fluttering to the floor.
The problem with the story
Bland characters often transform into a bland story, while not always the case it is most certainly so with Serial Cleaner. The story takes place over a series of contracts (20 to be exact). Each contract begins with the phone ringing, a mysterious voice asking for another crime scene to be cleaned up. The contract ends with the cleaner arriving back home. There are some attempts to escalate by having the Cleaner react with increasing hostility and agitation. But the crime scenes do not get any gorier then they always were.
The only thing that changes is the difficulty curve, which does not really add to the story’s tension. Things escalate pretty rapidly after contract 15, too quickly as we learn who the Serial Killer is, where they live and save the loved one in a very (about three contracts worth) short period of time . There is no time to establish any sort of threat or have the Cleaner out of his depth. He just continues to be good at his job (which contrives cleaning even though it is meant to be race against the clock) and the plot just falls into place. The ending was rather underwhelming, the Cleaner wins and no one knows who he is. I would not say that its bad, just lacking in dramatic punch.
Gameplay is a isometric stealth-cleaning up affair. The game is comprised of 20 contracts (20 missions) with a set number of objectives to complete. (These comprise of a certain number of bodies, pieces of evidence and a percentage of blood to be cleaned up.) It’s your mission as Cleaner to get rid of the evidence while evading the police. That sounds rather simple doesn’t it? Considering that your not x ray vision (cleaner sense) which highlights everything (short cuts, hiding places, cops, etc and zooms the map out) you might think so. However the game does have some tricks up its sleeve.
Every time the Cleaner moves he creates a small shock wave of sound around him. Certain actions will create bigger sound waves (the vacuum cleaner used to mop (?) up the blood, or when carrying a corpse). This can attract cops to the Cleaner if the player is not careful, as the sound waves can go through walls. The player has to be careful in when traversing as they cannot get too close to the cops but also have to avoid getting spotted (they have vision cones).
The AI is predictable but not completely stupid. They will go cycle through their routes, checking the surroundings when whatever they were patrolling inevitably goes missing before returning to their route. Like any good stealth based game patience and planning are key to success. The player has to carefully observe patterns and cycles to learn. I wish that the AI was a little less dumb. Because if I got spotted I could just dive into a hiding spot and the highly trained police would look in confusion, looking for the mysterious intruder they saw getting into a box. Not immersion breaking but a little cheap considering that the police would not even try to check nearby cupboards big enough for a man.
You will die a lot in Serial Cleaner. Which is not in of itself a bad thing, providing challenge to the player is good way to engage said player. For some reason every time you die, the positions of certain things get rearranged (bodies, evidence and hiding places for example). Considering how small and compact the maps are, it does not much of a impact asides from mild annoyance. A corpse in slightly different place that is a little hard/easier to deal with. I think it is to add some verity, which it does, in the same way that having chicken instead of beef is verity.
Serial Cleaner has something of an difficulty spike, for the first seven missions I breezed through the game with little to any challenge before getting killed three times on contract eight. It was as sudden and as painful as getting twatted on the head with a baton. Afterwards the difficulty stayed fairly consistent, which makes the spike all the more mystifying and noticeable to me. I kind of wished that Serial Cleaner have had given a difficultly curve instead of a spike. Just to make it less jarring.
Some things for afterwards
There is bonus content (found in each story contract) that allow you to unlock new clothes and bonus, movie themed levels. The costumes offer no more than a visual change and the movie themed levels use the same mechanics as base game; just you are cleaning up the aftermath of Alien or Taxi Driver. There are challenges that make levels harder or more difficult. Tried a few but they did not hold my interest. It might be different if you prefer to milk the game for all its worth.
Graphics and art-style:
The looks wonderful, the low texture and the sharp colours deliver a wonderful aesthetic. The visuals are very akin to that of 1970s/80s art, you know the type, the sort that was found in high glass hotels during the time period. The crisp visuals allow for a clean and unobstructed view of where everyone is and what their role is in the level. Simple but stylish and finely polished.
Some minor frame rate drops but otherwise perfect.
Serial Cleaner is not the most engaging of story based games, it is rather short at about seven hours long. But the gameplay is quite fun, has a fair bit of visual personality. An enjoyable digestible biscuit in a 70s hairdo.
Like a strange entity that consumes far too much media I go by many names, some call me Stuart, others call me FrozenDoom and the rest call me (among others)….Good Hunter. I am a part time game reviewer and writer. I will be uploading my reviews and other content here. I also have another blog that will work along with Rockslide Media in terms of uploads. Both sites will get the same content, Imaginative Ramblings will be the place where you can support me if you desire. Please enjoy what we have to offer and take care.